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Living Newspaper Edition 3

Royal Court Theatre online, 29 March – 11 April

Written by Travis Alabanza, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Nick Bruckman, Anupama Chandrasekhar, Zain Dada, Josh Elliott, Rabiah Hussain, Sami Ibrahim, Karen Laws, Eve Leigh, Chloë Moss, Anthony Neilson, Margaret Perry, and Rebecca Prichard

Review by Jonny Wright

Chuck D of Public Enemy once described hip-hop as ‘the Black CNN’, and in a world of #FakeNews and dying print media, perhaps we would do better to seek our news from alternative sources.  Rather than attempting to replace news media altogether, the Royal Court’s Living Newspaper allows creative writers to give their own, fresh perspectives on the issues of the day. It draws on the Federal Theatre Project of the US, a programme during the Great Depression to mobilise and employ artists as part of President Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’.

The Living Newspaper comes in weekly editions with new short plays released daily.  Most of the pieces translate extremely well to the screen, which is not always the case with plays, and the acting across the board underpins that success. In its third edition, Living Newspaper contains a wide spectrum of plays covering an even wider variety of topics. For example, a play set at the bottom of the ocean with condoms and other plastic litter; an emotional eulogy to a no-good father; a dystopian karaoke set at the end of the world; and in the Cartoon of the Week, an actor playing Boris Johnson, John Bull-like squatting and shitting over France.

A stand-out play is Zain Dada’s Emily (Glitched) in Paris, an arresting critique of French colonialism through a conversation between Emily, a white tourist, and her waiter, Samir. The restaurant setting provides a metaphor for French high society in which Samir (of North African origin) has to keep up a façade of colonial subservience. Every so often he ‘glitches’ and tells Emily horrifying truths about France’s colonial past. His transformations, from cheery tour guide to tortured whistleblower, are a great way of portraying what WEB Du Bois described as an insider/outsider ‘double consciousness’. Like many people who don’t look like the white population, Samir has to find a way to navigate discrimination in society; but the harder you try to assimilate, the more likely you are to glitch. The play challenges French colonial amnesia. It would be fantastic if more plays re-examining Britain’s colonial past could be commissioned. It’s important the British theatre doesn’t become judge and jury of crimes committed abroad, whilst forgetting to look a little closer to home. Which leads nicely on to my other favourite play, actually two back-to-back mini plays, by Rabiah Hussain. The first, Stay Alert, is a dance performance set to recent British political speeches and news reports, taking us on a journey through the UK experience of Covid. A highlight is a soundbite of Boris Johnson saying, ‘I don’t believe in gestures, I believe in substance’, juxtaposed with two silhouetted dancers ‘clapping for the NHS’. The play runs straight into Hussain’s second play, Truth, Truth, Lie, which culminates in three female protagonists giving each other advice on how to stay safe whilst walking home – advice which seems especially harrowing in light of the Sarah Everard murder. British feminism has long suffered from not allowing women of all colours to feel truly part of the conversation, and it’s refreshing that this play features a diverse cast and writer. Hopefully, our print media can take a lead from the Royal Court and start employing a more diverse range of writers, and on more than just a freelance basis. The Living Newspaper definitely benefits from such a wide range of perspectives; there are plays here for everyone to enjoy.